Is it me, or is there a rise in gender discussions of recent? The ongoing, and now vastly publicized, fight for work equality between men and women, gender in sport, mom-preneurs, daddy day cares. It is no secret that women and men look, think, act, behave, communicate, and logic differently. So how do these gender differences relate to mental health and the processing of mental health problems? Consider the following:
Husband comes home from another long work day. Deadlines are looming, the boss is out of town, promotional opportunities are forthcoming, and someone called in sick. His wife expects him to do a few dishes, play with the kids, maybe get the dog out. She asks for his help with a few things, and he explodes (or retreats, or grumbles, or will begrudgingly oblige). “I had another long day, I just want to…(go to bed, watch the game, zone out in the basement, eat in peace..).” She probably had a long day too – working or home, the demands and tasks don’t seem to end. Both go to bed frustrated, sad, angry or feeling isolated and alone. The next day the cycle repeats and onward things go…she might ask about how he is doing, and he might respond with “I am just stressed”.
Familiar? But when you look at how men and women process emotion differently, “stressed” for men, might actually mean “depressed”.
When you imagine a person who is depressed you may think of them as tired or sad, maybe they are neglecting their hygiene, have a reduced appetite or poor sleep, and these are all very valid symptoms of depression. However the American Psychological Association reports that depression signs can differ greatly between men and women, and the reason for this remains unexplained. Many professionals speculate it could be from our ‘macho-man-ideal’ society, in which men are encouraged to ‘suck it up’ and to show their ‘strength’ or self-control by not expressing emotions. This ideal is unfortunately also rubbing off on Canadian children, and boys between the ages of 13-17 are severely underrepresented in the statistics of youth that call the Kids Help Phone, and when they do call they rarely talk about mental health.
Symptoms that are often not recognized as depression, especially in men, include:
● Being irritable, short-tempered, or inappropriately angry
● Spending a lot of time on work (they may be trying to escape their feelings by keeping busy)
● Reckless driving, extreme sports, or other risky behaviour
● Excessive controlling behavior
● Alcohol or substance abuse (men are far more likely to abuse substances)
These behaviours are untraditional of typical depressive symptoms, but mean that men who may benefit from emotional aid are often slipping under the radar for health professionals, and this can lead to disastrous consequences including poor quality of life and higher rates of suicide.
Recent studies by organizations that specialize in mental health say that they need to approach the topic of depression differently with men. Often men will not admit any possible feelings of ‘depression’, but will quickly agree to feeling ‘stressed.’
Women, on the other hand, might use the word “stress” differently. Women may use stress to describe a point in time, a set of demands, or something that is expected to pass, while men may relate this to a state of being, a new “normal”.
Based on these revelations, men may require a different marketing strategy for addressing mental health than women. Mental health agencies including the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention and Carson J. Spencer Foundation collaborated with Cactus to come up with a unique way to entice men to explore their mental wellness. According to Dr. Spencer-Thomas and J. Hindman (MS):
“The goal of Man Therapy is to show working age men that talking about their problems, getting help and fixing themselves is masculine. The campaign strength is its innovative and humorous approach through a fictional “therapist” named Dr. Rich Mahogany, who is a no-nonsense man’s-man that lets men know honest talk about life’s problems is how they will start to solve them. At the center of the campaign is a web portal that allows men to interact with Dr. Mahogany, do a “head inspection” (self-assessment), and get “manly mental health tips.” When men indicate high levels of distress, Dr. Mahogany refers them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or “the Pros.” Check out this resource for Man Therapy.
The bottom line is that depression can manifest itself differently in different people, and men are constantly under-represented in the list of people seeking help. Occupational Therapists assess and treat people with mental health problems, and some even have the additional training and experience necessary to provide Psychotherapy. The core approach of the OT profession is to encourage successful function in all life roles regardless of the reasons why function is impaired. OT intervention may help the men in our lives to reduce some of that “stress” (aka depression), so they can resume enjoyment in life roles.
CTV News, www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=454539
Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/male-depression/art-20046216